Minus One

from Vasanta

Hiking into our remote campsite, I named the steep mile of loose shale “the Slippery Slide.” I said my mantra, AUM Guru, with double intensity, and we made it safely up; but I wasn’t looking forward to the return trip down.

After a few blissful days in the high country—no other people, no cell phones—it was time to go. When we got to the Slippery Slide, I walked in front of my wife so I could catch her if she fell. “If you start to lose your balance,” I told her, “fall uphill.”

“AUM Guru, AUM Guru, AUM Guru,” I repeated inwardly as we made our way down. I was carrying the majority of the load, about sixty-five pounds in a high-frame backpack that extended above my head and strapped across my upper chest. I always wear my rudraksha mala (meditation prayer beads) inside my shirt against my skin. The strap, however, pressed uncomfortably against the hard beads, so when backpacking I wore it on top.

About halfway down the Slide I looked back to see how my wife was doing. That slight turn was enough to shift my center of gravity. Suddenly, I was airborne. A branch flashed by and I tried to grab it, but the hiking pole strapped to my wrist got in the way. I wasn’t at all afraid, just interested in what might happen next.

Gravity brought me down pack-first, cushioning my spine and head from the worst of the impact. I lay there stunned with my feet pointing uphill, my head pointing down, staring at the sky. After a moment I undid the strap, rolled off the pack and stood up. I was quite calm. My wife, however, was a different story. She’d watched the whole thing, which apparently looked worse to her than it felt to me.

It didn’t help that, like in some corny horror movie, blood was pouring down my arm and dripping from my fingertips. I thought it looked cool, but understandably, my wife freaked out. I had a puncture wound in my forearm, probably from the mid-air grab at the branch. During the eight-mile walk back to the car, the bandage soaked through twice. We made it home safely though, and the doctor confirmed that nothing was seriously wrong.

A few days later I was in the middle of my Thursday morning, long meditation where I always do 108 kriyas, one full circle of my mala. Somewhere around kriya number ninety, I felt something odd. Where there should have been a bead, there was an empty section of wire. Rudraksha beads are hard and small, the seed of a tree in India. It must have taken a direct hit to break the bead, leave the wire intact, and not break my rib in the process.

This was clearly a case of what I call “mitigated karma.” My destiny demanded that an accident happen. The protection of God and Guru, however, turned what could have been tragic into a mere (though bloody) inconvenience. Life and limb were spared, but the karmic energy had to go somewhere.

As a cosmic joke (or so it seems to me), in exchange for my life, God took one rudraksha bead.